Given the escalation of the Ebola crisis and the growing media attention, it is important to consider how it has come to affect workplace relations and expectations. Whether it is staff travelling back and forth on visits to affected areas or staff going out to affected areas to work on a short-term basis, we are starting to see the effects the disease, particularly its reputation, is having on the workplace. For example, we recently dealt with a case where an employee’s family travelled to Africa to visit relatives and, subsequently, a number of employee’s from the same company have refused to work with the said employee for fear of contracting Ebola. It’s worrying but understandable, given the mass media coverage of the outbreak and the fact that, clinically, the world is struggling to control the outbreak.
For employers, there are two ways to focus on the problem. Firstly, the way to handle the specific situation, and secondly, what implications/policies/procedures should they consider given the spread of the outbreak.
Employers have a duty of care to all staff, which will include establishing correct procedures that minimises the risk of injury or infection in the workplace, including Ebola. It is important that this is handled correctly because:
- Pressuring certain individuals who have travelled or planning to travel to affected areas – could result in accusations of victimisation and harassment, resulting in a possible tribunal case and resignations from affected individuals.
- If procedures are too relaxed or non-existent and employees become ill after travelling to affected areas, you increase the risk to other employees.
My recommendations for managing Ebola in the UK workplace include:
- Speak with employees planning to travel to affected areas to ensure they are familiar with the obligations set out in the company’s health and safety regulations – i.e.: making sure that they immediately seek medical advice if they begin to display any symptoms. They must understand that, under these circumstances, absence from work is mandatory. For those yet to travel, carry out risk-assessment on these individuals and request they cancel non-essential travel if the risk is high.
- Speak with other employees who may harbour a grievance or anxiety towards staff members travelling to affected areas. Reassure them that there are procedures in place to deal with the any employee infected with Ebola.
- Make sure you research the destination and risk to Ebola infection. For instance, Nigeria was recently praised for their handling of Ebola cases and the reported risk of transmission is very low. As such, employers and employees should show caution but not over concern with staff travelling to these areas. I find the Foreign travel advice website a helpful resource on travel restrictions: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
- Implement a full procedure to deal with situations where risk of infection is high, including the need to isolate staff members showing symptoms and protocol for contacting medical assistance. Communicate these procedures to staff and offer full training.
- Ensure the health and safety policy is aligned with current guidance from relevant health organisations. Keep an eye out for changes and act quickly.
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